Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged the world to set up and use a global QR code system to help establish travellers’ health status and open up international travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.
During the virtual G20 summit on Saturday, the Chinese leader called for a COVID-19 ‘global mechanism’, which involves international recognition of health certificates in the form of QR codes to allow people travel freely, according to state media.
But the system has been slammed by international human rights groups who warn that the codes could be used for ‘broader political monitoring and exclusion’.
China called for a COVID-19 ‘global mechanism’, which involves international recognition of health certificates in the form of QR codes to allow people travel freely. This photo taken on February 28, 2020 shows a passenger wearing a face mask as he shows a green QR code on his phone to show his health status to security upon arrival at Wenzhou railway station, east China
Chinese President Xi Jinping (pictured in file photo on November 16) has urged other countries to use a global QR code system to help establish travellers’ health status amid the pandemic
Beijing has faced widespread doubts and criticism over its use of artificial intelligence to monitor its citizens amid the pandemic.
Tens of millions of Chinese residents were ordered to use a smartphone app that evaluates their health condition and tracks their travel history during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Millions of video cameras blanket streets from major cities to small towns. Censors monitor activity on the internet and social media. State-owned telecom carriers can trace where mobile phone customers go.
As the country appeared to have largely contained its outbreak at home, China is now urging the world to join the ‘global mechanism’ to help open up the international travel which has been long stalled by the virus.
Beijing has faced widespread doubts and criticism over its use of artificial intelligence to monitor its citizens amid the coronavirus pandemic. Travellers are pictured on Sunday scanning a QR code that tracks their itinerary history at Beijing Capital International Airport
Mr Xi did not explain how the international scheme might work or if it would reminiscent of the health code system which has been widely adopted in China. Passengers in line scan the code and fill in the health registration form in Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport on March 30
Speaking at the virtual G20 summit on Saturday night in Beijing, President Xi proposed the system, which is based on ‘nucleic acid testing results in the form of internationally accepted QR codes’, reported state news agency Xinhua.
‘We need to further harmonise policies and standards and establish ‘fast tracks’ to facilitate the orderly flow of people,’ he is quoted saying. ‘[We] hope more countries would participate.’
Mr Xi did not explain how the international scheme might work or if it would reminiscent of the health code system which has been widely adopted in China.
But the proposal has raised concerns from human rights advocates who compared the codes to ‘a Trojan Horse for broader political monitoring and exclusion’.
Beware of the Chinese government’s proposal for a global QR code system. An initial focus on health could easily become a Trojan Horse for broader political monitoring and exclusion, akin to the dangers associated with China’s social-credit system. https://t.co/rKfmCZQ376
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth)
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, warned in a tweet: ‘Beware of the Chinese government’s proposal for a global QR code system.
‘An initial focus on health could easily become a Trojan Horse for broader political monitoring and exclusion, akin to the dangers associated with China’s social-credit system,’ he added.
Security analyst Paul Bischoff, who has penned a report about the world’s most-monitored cities, believes that China has taken advantage of the health crisis to speed up the implementation of state surveillance.
In a previous interview, Mr Bischoff told MailOnline: ‘This is the exact sort of surveillance creep that privacy advocates have warned against since contact tracing apps were first introduced.
‘There was always a risk that contact tracing apps would be used beyond their intended purpose, particularly for surveillance. It’s not hard to imagine authorities taking advantage of access to contact tracing data and using it to restrict freedom of movement and assembly.
China has faced widespread doubts and criticism over its use of artificial intelligence to monitor its citizens during the pandemic. A passenger is pictured scanning a QR code to get his green pass at a subway station in Wuhan on this file picture taken on April 1
A worker is pictured adjusting a surveillance camera outside the home of a journalist placed under quarantine after he had visited Wuhan in Beijing on May 3. Such security cameras are set up ‘purely for the needs of counter-epidemic works’, according to The Global Times
‘Whether this actually happens or not, even having the capability to monitor users will cause them to act differently, creating a chilling effect on those freedoms.’
Officials have used various surveillance methods, including increasing location tracking via people’s phones and boosting the use of face recognition in public places, during the pandemic, according to Mr Bischoff.
China has also been building a mass surveillance network, which boasts hundreds of millions of street cameras.
The surveillance network has been billed as the world’s most powerful facial-recognition system and aims to identify any of its 1.4 billion citizens within three seconds.
The country’s residents are due to be carefully watched by 626 million street monitors, or one camera for nearly every two people, as early as this year, according to a study.
China has five most-monitored cities in the world. Its most-surveilled city, Chongqing, is equipped with more than 2.5 million street cameras, or one for every six people.
Critics have cautioned over the scheme. Many have compared it to a dystopian system run by a fictional state leader, Big Brother, in George Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.
Coronavirus China: President Xi urges the world to use COVID-19 ‘QR codes’ to check travellers’
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